TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Sexual harassment is 'absolutely rampant' in Indonesian workplaces, and current laws often persecute victims rather than support them, experts say. Indonesian women, activists and victims believe it’s time for legal and social change.
When feminist activist Kate Walton did research into sales promotion girls, they told her that none of their companies have any policies against sexual harassment.
“There was one girl who told me she’d been harassed by a customer who grabbed her hand and wanted to get her phone number. She reported this to her supervisor who told her that she should go with it and maybe even if she wore sexier clothing she might sell more products.”
In addition to employers not being sympathetic, the legal system also offers limited support, as is seen in the current case of sexual harassment victim Baiq Nuril Makum. Women’s rights activists are calling for legal and social change after she was sentenced to six months in jail for speaking out about her experience.
The 37-year-old administration officer at a West Nusa Tenggara High School, claims to have been verbally harassed by the principal, who allegedly phoned her several times and shared details of his sexual activities with another woman.
After a recording of this phone call was circulated online, the Supreme Court found Nuril guilty of defamation, in violation of Indonesia’s electronic information and transactions law (‘ITE law’).
Infographic 1 on sexual harassment. Credit: Chelsea Cosgrave
Nirmala Ika, Psychologist and Executive Coordinator of the psychological non-profit organisation Yayasan Pulih, says Nuril’s case highlights a big problem with Indonesian law and encourages other sexual harassment victims to keep quiet. “The ITE law and laws relating to sexual harassment are not connected and do not support each other.”
Walton says in Indonesian workplaces, sexual harassment is “absolutely rampant”, coming from customers, colleagues, supervisors and partners.
“The ITE law is just one of the many barriers faced by women who want to report it,” she says.
“One friend was telling me, just the other week, a manager and a younger female staff member were walking down the stairs and when she said ‘You go first,’ he replied, ‘No you go first. I’d like to look at your bum as you walk.’”
But Walton says naming perpetrators or companies involved in sexual harassment can mean victims are socially ridiculed or even worse, sent to jail.